Trick or Treat

The origins of some of our favourite spooky snacks

It’s the end of October which means that it’s officially spooky season! If you’re like me you love any excuse to have people over for a fun gathering, and I’ve yet to meet a theme I don’t like, especially if there are some theme appropriate snacks you can include in your offering. Even more fun than that is learning where some of these odd traditions and dishes came from, so without further ado, here are the origins of some of our favourite Halloween snacks and treats.

Candy floss

Legend says that cotton candy  (or spookasem) originated with a form of spun sugar found in Europe in the 19th century. At that time spun sugar was an expensive, labour-intensive treat and was not generally available to the average person.  The process involved pulling the sugar floss into thin strands using forks and draping it over broom handles. Machine-spun cotton candy was only invented in 1897 (ironically) by dentist William Morrison and confectioner John C. Wharton. The iconic treat was first introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair as ‘Fairy Floss’ and was a great success. Even more charming than its origin is the fact that this treat has different names all over the world. The Chinese call it ‘dragon’s beard’, the Dutch refer to it as ‘sugar spider’ and the French word for it translated into English is ‘daddy’s beard’! My favourite has to be the Afrikaans name, ‘spookasem’, which makes it perfect for spooky season. 

Caramel apples

Apples probably have the longest history associated with this time of year, having been a prominent decoration at many Samhain festivals (the original Halloween) dating all the way back to the Roman Empire, with bobbing for apples possibly originating during that time period as well. The Romans brought the apple tree with them when they invaded Britain in 55 B.C., and they believed it was symbol of abundance.

In a ritual better suited to Valentine’s Day than Halloween, bobbing for apples was originally a way for lovers to decide if they were compatible. During Roman festivals each apple placed in a container would represent a special someone. Potential partners would then bob for an apple and try to bite into the one that belonged to their intended. If they were able to successfully get it on their first try, that meant they were destined to be together. 

For something a little bit sweeter, the first candy apples were made in 1908 when a New Jersey-based sweet maker named William Kolb decided to melt down some red cinnamon candy he usually made for Christmas and coat apples in it for decorative purposes. The story of the caramel apple isn’t much different and the first one was created in the 1950s when a caramel sweet salesman called Dan Walker experimented with excess caramels from Halloween sales and threw in an apple. The rest is history! 

Gummy worms
Love them or hate them, you can’t deny gummy worms are good fun. Trolli, a German confectionery company, created gummy worms in 1981 and according to legend they were developed as a light-hearted mockery of the beloved gummy bear sweet which debuted sixty years earlier. The intention was to create something that children would find funny and parents would be shocked by. Today their creepy crawly look and tasty sourness make them the perfect spooky season treat. 

The Jack-o-lantern

There is no symbol more synonymous with spooky season than the Jack-o-lantern. If you haven’t carved a pumpkin before, you’re missing out, but did you know that the activity originated in Ireland and was taken to the US after the potato famine of 1846 which caused a massive influx of new Irish immigrants. According to an old Irish folktale, a morally questionable farmer named Jack passed away and his bad reputation kept him out of both heaven and hell. As a result he carved a turnip and placed a burning coal inside to make a lantern to guide his lost soul.

When the Irish immigrated to North America, the turnip lanterns became pumpkin lanterns, since this variety of winter squash was more common there. Today there are a number of pumpkin recipes you can incorporate in your spooky day events, all paying homage to the original pumpkin.